She Is An "Actress"
"Hu Manor" Stuns Opera Circle

With the outstanding achievement of "Romance On Horseback", the two teachers Su and Pai had full confidence in this promising pupil. So she concentrated on rehearsing Ta Peng¡¦s celebrated opera "Chessboard Mountain". This was still the story of Hsueh Ting-shan: his younger sister Hsueh Chin-lien was transporting army provisions past Chessboard Mountain, Tou I-hu, who was head of bandits occupying the Mountain robbed the provisions, so Hsueh Ting-shan led his troops to recover the loss. Tou I-hu¡¦s younger sister Tou Hsien-tung was highly skilled in the martial arts and came down from the Mountain to personally fight Hsueh. She was struck by Hsueh¡¦s looks and fell in love with him. The opera had civil scenes within martial ones, and romance within fighting. It was in fact similar in plot to "Romance on Horseback". But Kuo Hsiao-chuang had already had the experience of playing the lead in terms of image and acting. So she made a special effort to study the part, playing the role of Tou Hsien-tung lively and lovely in makeup, singing voice, body movements and gestures.

During rehearsals, the instructors taught and trained with dedication, and Kuo Hsiao-chuang also made special efforts to comprehend the part in depth. Since Tou Hsien-tung had not much singing to do, only a passage of 'Er Liu' and 'Running Water', so she practiced diligently, meaning to sing it beautifully. The part had a great deal of body acting and spoken lines. She was confident that she could give her best and display perfectly on stage the liveliness of the Tao Ma Tan's act and the dexterity of the martial arts. For the scene of her combat with Hsueh Ting-shan, she demanded herself to be agile in movement, delicate in expressions, displaying martial skills and displaying romance. She practiced day and night without easing up, almost becoming Tou Hsien-tung in real life.

At the real performance, the auditorium was packed with people. Kuo Chin-ho and his wife also took their seats well on time, watching their beloved daughter's performance with concentration from start to finish. Kuo Hsiao-chuang's makeup looked beautiful, her movements were elegant, her spoken lines sweet, and her stage style noble. Her appearance was a step forward from "Romance on Horseback". Obviously she had the style of a great star. Kuo Chin-ho had seen so many opera stars' performance and was well acquainted with every famous star's unique art, so would he not know what were the special characteristics of these famous actors? What was the attraction of their appearance? What was that spirit that flowed from their whole bodies? And what was the force that made the audiences intoxicated? Kuo Chin-ho, who was an opera buff from his youth, and for the most part of his life had loved Peking opera besides love of nature, understood deep in his heart what was a "celebrated actor". But he had never told his daughter, lest he gave her too much pressure. Everything depended on talent, and opportunity, and one¡¦s own hard work.

As a matter of fact, the critics who came to see Kuo Hsiao-chuang play "Chessboard Mountain" this evening unanimously affirmed her brilliant performance. They all recognized the emergence of a new comet in the opera circle: a real "Actress".

"Chessboard Mountain" became a best report card for Kuo Hsiao-chuang. She graduated from the School of Drama and entered the Opera Troupe. From student to professional actress, complex ripples arose in her heart. There were joy, fear, pride and trepidations. Leaving the School, she suddenly felt grown up. From now on everything had to depend on herself. In the long career of performance ahead, she would still have to learn and re-learn. If she really wanted to excel in this trade, to become a rising, dazzling, celebrated actress, from now on, it would no longer be just sweating and studying hard. That rigorous basic training of the body was something of the past. From now on she had to enrich her inner self; including how to enhance her general knowledge: literary, philosophical, social, artistic and even accomplishments in living. All these would enhance the quality of an actress.

The year she graduated from the School of Drama to enter the Opera Troupe, she was only 15, a young and ignorant age in fact. But in her heart she felt mature and knowing. Maybe it had to do with communal life. Prematurely independent living made a person grow up quickly. Coming into the Troupe, she realized more than ever that everything had to depend on oneself. In those days her opportunities for performing had greatly increased. Sometimes she played the lead; sometimes she played insignificant extra roles on stage. She learned how to grasp the relative significance, and how to work with and respect others. Though she spoke very little, she earnestly observed and learned in her heart. The most interesting and unforgettable thing in the opera troupe was the performances to entertain the troops.

Army entertainment performances were all done in far away places. Everybody rode on military trucks on hard wooden stools. After long distance driving, everybody was shaken numb and painful, not able to stand up for a few minutes, nor able to sit down either. Sometimes they went to the outer islands of Chinmen and Matsu to entertain the garrisons there and had to take a boat. When the sea was rough, everybody often could not help throwing up everywhere and even went limp in the limbs with vomitting. But when the boat came to shore, the soldiers were already welcoming warmly there. So everybody had to pluck up their spirit and made up and performed at once. Even more interestingly, performance schedules for entertaining the troops were very tight. Sometimes they had to rush 3 performances a day. To save time, they kept the make up and the whole costumes on their bodies, rushing to the next performance without having time to change. During meals they were also heavily made up and eating the lunch boxes with an effort. But the feelings in everybody's heart were happy and something new. Different formats of performing gave them a taste of something entirely new.

Whenever the Troupe had a break, Kuo Hsiao-chuang would go to the Tan Chiang Arts and Science College to listen to Yu Ta-kang lecturing on Tzu and Chu. Professor Yu Ta-kang was a famous expert in opera and literature of our country. He was enthusiastic in nurturing the new generation, and had a special liking for Peking opera and Kun Chu. Every time there was a Chinese opera performance, he was sure to be among the audience with his wife. The Chinese opera circle was most reverent of his erudition. Kuo Hsiao-chuang went to sit in at Tan Chiang also out of respect for his learning.

At this time, Maestro Su Sheng-shih was privately teaching Kuo Hsiao-chuang the opera "Hu Manor". This was what made Hsu Lu famous in the past and nobody had played it for a long time. Maestro Su saw that Hsiao-chuang was a talented and well-trained student who had come of age, and so taught her his most celebrated unique art.

The female lead of "Hu Manor" was Hu San-niang the "Ten Feet of Steel". Only female leads with very good martial skills would dare to try it. Kuo Hsiao-chuang had a solid foundation. Everyday she diligently practiced tying on back pennons, wearing two pheasant tails on the helmet, putting on the breast plate, and practiced martial arts in full armor. She also practiced hard the actions of "running", "waving the pheasant tails" and "left and right prostrate fish". Neglecting sleep and meals for 3 months of practice, she was extremely nervous, because this was the first time she played the lead in a show selling tickets publicly and her mental strain was really heavy.

The heavy burden lasted until the opening night with a full house. In mixed feelings of fear and joy, she made her entrance following the hurried sound of percussions. As soon as she had entered, a "first encounter cheer" exploded and people were shouting like thunder. She quickly swept a glance around the auditorium and saw that the space just in front of the stage was crowded with photographers from the Press. Flash lights were flashing nonstop. The audience behind were shouting for them to make way. Finding herself in such a "grand occasion", Kuo Hsiao-chuang at once collected herself and concentrated on acting. She sang "Drunk in the shade of flowers" and acted at the same time, illustrating the Chinese opera characteristic of "no sound not sung, no movement not danced". Carrying the halberd and holding the horsewhip in a standard stylized movement, and also tossing up the horsewhip, wielding the halberd, running in circles on stage, she was bursting with heroic airs, and her singing was clear and sweet. The little Kuo Hsiao-chuang on stage was one with Hu San-liang the Ten Feet of Steel. Her singing, dancing, stillness and movement completely captured the emotions of the audience.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang once more displayed her accomplishment. It was proven that she had indeed made it. After this stunning performance the opera circle affirmed her great achievement, and recognized her as no less than an "actress".

To Hsiao-chuang, what was even more gratifying was that Professor Yu Ta-kang was most impressed watching her act. He made a special trip to backstage to look her up, saying frankly that she was moldable into a great talent. He asked her to come to his house to consult him besides sitting in art lectures at Tan Chiang. From then on, Hsiao-chuang frequented the Yu residence, listening with respect to Professor Yu talking about culture and art, about aesthetics, about life. He casually talked about any subjects that came to mind. The contents of the talks were full of new ideas and philosophical, most inspiring to Hsiao-chuang's knowledge and thinking.

In the context of Kuo Hsiao-chuang's entire performing career, from entering Ta Peng School of Drama to joining the Ta Peng Opera Troupe after graduation, from students' practical performances, to formal performances of "Romance on Horseback", "Chessboard Mountain" and "Hu Manor", winning new acclaim in the opera circle and establishing her standing as leading actress in the future, this period should be the first phase of her performing career.

And studying under Professor Yu Ta-kang, learning from Professor Yu's lectures, propagating the doctrines of the ancient sages, explaining puzzlements and even observations about life, and appreciation of the arts, whereby expanding her own scope of knowledge and implanting her inner recognition of character acting, a whole decade of edifying influence and education by Professor Yu: this period should be the second phase of her performing career.

During the first phase of her performing career, she received fundamental education in Chinese opera, singing, acting and body and limb training. She spent more time than the others and made greater and more painstaking efforts than the others. "One reaps no more than what one has sown." She excelled herself because of these.

The progress in the first phase had a great influence on the development of her performing career in future. The most obvious aspects were the following:

She studied hard the parts of Hua Tan, Tao Ma Tan and also Ching-i. The result was she was more versatile and could play more different parts than others.

Her stylized movements were refined and elegant, and she could also grasp the subject for expression. For instance, the role of Hu San-niang was neither a female bandit leader nor an official female general. It was a female manor owner who defied oppression. Kuo Hsiao-chuang grasped the identity of the role and acted it just right, thus attracting great admiration.

She had a solid foundation in basic skills. Her movements were agile and dexterous. Especially martial arts of Broadsword and Horse Riding: not many were willing to go to the trouble and determination to train rigorously in these. This revealed Kuo Hsiao-chuang's strict demands on herself. It had a lot to do with her being so treasured by both the movie and the television fields in future.

Excellent foundation in singing and acting, as well as solid and nimble body training, constituted a supporting force behind her future reforms of Chinese opera.